For decades, scientists have recognized that fisheries management should consider the interconnections between fishing, fished species, humans, and the well-being of the larger marine environment. There is strong support for this approach, known as ecosystem-based fisheries management, but no clear path to implementation.
Recognizing this, the Lenfest Ocean Program has charged a team of scientists with creating a practical blueprint that managers can use to make ecosystem-based fisheries management operational. The Fishery Ecosystem Task Force will hold a series of meetings and provide recommendations in 2016.
U.S. fisheries management is organized around Fishery Management Plans (FMPs), traditionally focused on a single species or an associated group of species. Fisheries science has in the past been similarly oriented, so the most well-developed methods focus on maintaining individual species at sustainable levels.
Ecosystem-based fisheries management builds on single-species management by accounting for the relationships among all ecosystem components—marine organisms, humans, and the environment—in a holistic, synthetic, integrated fashion. To begin implementing this approach, some regional fishery councils have adopted fishery ecosystem plans (FEPs). But there is no standard for what these plans should contain.
The Task Force’s main output will be an outline of the components of effective FEPs. It will provide a set of specific questions that every FEP should address and a set of recommendations for how each question can be answered. The goal is for managers to be able to do so using existing data and in a way that is useful for their specific management contexts, ecological dynamics, and socioeconomic circumstances.
The group will focus on guidance for U.S. fishery management councils but will also provide a framework that can be adapted by other management bodies. It will meet four times over a two-year period in four regions around the U.S.
The Task Force is led by Timothy Essington of the School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, and will bring together natural and social scientists. Phil Levin, an ecologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will co-chair the Task Force and chair an advisory panel of managers and NOAA scientists.
The Task Force will work closely with an advisory panel to ensure its recommendations are in line with existing data and management structures. This panel will be made up of fishery management council members, fisheries managers, and fisheries scientists.